Many Old Catonsville residents who choose to move rarely settle far from its small-town charm. In the case of David and Joanne Carney, the move was a mere three blocks away.
"We would drive by this house, and you could barely see it through the forest of trees that enveloped it, and it seemed to have an air of mystery and romance about it," Joanne Carney recalled. "We always wondered what it looked like inside and thought how beautiful it could be if we could just bring it back to life. I never dreamed that it would become our reality."
The reality was a large, circa 1904 pseudo-Victorian with scalloped, clapboard siding. The previous owner was born in the house and lived there until he died just shy of his 100th birthday. For the last 40 years of his life, according to neighbors, a few local women cooked for him, but aside from that, no one ever went in or out.
Four years ago this month, the Carneys purchased the home. David Carney, 48, owner of the Wine Bin in Ellicott City, had no illusions — before or after the sale — about the work that needed to be done when he paid $370,000 for it. Initially, his wife was totally against the venture.
"Well, you have to understand that this house essentially had not changed in decades — it was like walking back in time — and had virtually no lighting, limited plumbing, huge holes in the plaster and no working appliances," Joanne Carney said. "We had to rewire and redo the [plumbing] in the entire house, replaster all the walls, reglaze the claw-foot tub and purchase all new appliances. We could not even live in the house once we took ownership, and camped out at a friend's house for four months while the house was being brought into the 21st century."
Today, the serenity of the large front garden, with its circular drive, tall trees, new shrubbery, scattered sculptures and large water fountain, belies its former condition.
"Imagine a home on a half-acre plot where the owner has ceased to do any yard work for decades, and you can imagine the yard we've had to tackle," said Joanne Carney, 52, who works for the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington. "We had to take down over 30 trees because they were too close to the house and were dead or dying. There was no lawn to speak of, just English ivy, poison ivy [and] brambles. The driveway was just a dirt path."
With the help of friends and neighbors, and with rented Bobcat equipment, wood chippers, stump grinders and other large pieces of equipment, the Carneys created a front lawn worthy of its place on the street.
As for the interior at the time of purchase, "raccoons were living in the attic, the roof needed repair, and the entire house was covered in wallpaper that was peeling and filled with cobwebs," David Carney recalled. "It was creepy."
Today, beyond a wraparound front porch, the beautiful entrance hall — with its fireplace at the foot of a winding stairway to the third floor — is as welcoming as the day the house received its first family. Under 91/2-foot ceilings, every room has either a working fireplace or decorative mantel. A first- and second-story turret occupies a corner of the dining room and the master bedroom above it.
The couple has filled the home with many pieces representative of the Edwardian period. An antique iron bed frame found in the home has been used in one of the bedrooms. The couple's 12-year-old daughter, Sofia, has a bedroom on the third floor — a surprise to her parents, who initially found it to be one of the scariest rooms in the house.
Among the Carneys' prized possessions are antique French posters, two of which are painted on silk, that hang on first-level walls and remind the couple of trips to France.
To date, they have put more than $150,000 into the home's repair and updates, such as central air conditioning. The couples' next big project is to repair the front porch. Another project will be to bump out the back of the house to allow for a larger kitchen and family room.
Time for further improvements is definitely on their side.
"We're never leaving," David Carney said.
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